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Monthly Archives: May 2003

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – The Expanse

Summary: After an alien attack devastates Earth and kills millions, Archer takes his ship on a new mission into the Delphic Expanse to locate the aliens responsible for the attack.

star trek enterprise the expanseIn many ways “The Expanse” is more of a 40 minute trailer for upcoming episodes in the revised and retooled 3rd season version of ENTERPRISE than an episode itself. Unlike the retoolings of previous spin-offs like DS9’s “Way of the Warrior” or VOYAGER’s “Scorpion,” The Expanse serves as a secondary pilot after “Broken Bow,” minus the character introductions. As such, “The Expanse” is less about what’s actually happening on screen and more about the premise that it sets up for next season. Like a trailer, it’s a flashy showcase chock full of ships, special effects, space battles, alien races, plot twists and emotions. And like a trailer it’s also shorthand for the kind of abrupt changes, many of which should probably have been played out in a more gradual transition.

Attacks on Earth have been more commonplace in the STAR TREK movies than any of the series because they imply a raising of the stakes to something so major it requires its own showcase. Like “The Expanse,” two ORIGINAL SERIES movies featured probes carrying out attacks on Earth, both of which turned out to be somewhat misguided. Two NEXT GENERATION films featured attempted attacks, which were more menacing and lethal in nature but still none of the four films or even DS9 came close to “The Expanse” in showing the sheer devastation and scale of destruction. The improvements in special effects are what make it possible but it’s Enterprise’s need to reassert the importance of the crew and their mission in the face of falling ratings and interest that prompted Berman and Braga to cut a swath across the more optimistic STAR TREK worldview of the future, as the Xindi probe devastates Earth in a way that not even the Borg had ever managed to do. Even if ENTERPRISE’s producers choose to jettison or back off some from the resulting changes to the series, the deaths of millions makes it impossible for the series or Archer to go back to ever being as naive and carefree as before while maintaining credibility.

The special effects of the probe’s attack are occasionally spotty but it’s the crew’s reactions along with Archer’s log entries that really convey the impact of the attack. Still, despite effective scenes including the crew’s first reaction to learning the news and Trip confronting the devastation at home, “The Expanse” is doing too many things at once to really focus on the effects of the attack on the crew. There’s Duras constantly menacing Enterprise and while the resulting Klingon scenes are entertaining and the space battle is ENTERPRISE’s best, it mainly seems to be there in order to present an on-going threat, as if the Xinti attack and the threat of the Expanse wasn’t enough for an audience the producers seem to be assuming is on the verge of ADD and won’t watch or enjoy the episode if there isn’t a constant stream of action. Duras’ pursuit is an important continuation of the events in “Judgment” and “Bounty” that brings Starfleet and the Klingons closer to hostilities, but cramming them into an already crammed 40 minute episode dealing with other major events was not the way to go.

After all, within those same 40 minutes millions die on Earth, the Suliban kidnap Archer for a conversation with Future Guy, Enterprise returns to Earth, Archer challenges Vulcan authority again, gets a new mission then travels for months to its destination and Enterprise’s crewmembers deal with the impact of all these events. There is a lot of good character scenes here, from T’Pol and Phlox’s discussion of their status as the only aliens on board a human Starship to Archer and Trip drinking together during the night. There are good action scenes including the sight of the first other armed Starfleet ships we’ve seen up till now as they rescue Enterprise, and the Enterprise rolling behind a pursuing Klingon ship masked by gaseous clouds in a hoary but yet entertaining revisiting of WRATH OF KHAN. There are revelations, from the first photon torpedoes to an update on the departure of the second Warp 5 starship, to the suggestion that Future Guy might be human after all. But pack a lot good scenes that never quite manage to flow into one another tightly together in a package whose primary role is to setup future material, and you have an episode that hits a lot of the right notes but never quite comes together in a symphony.

As a second pilot “The Expanse” covers a lot territory that “Broken Bow” missed, most importantly by giving us a sense of Earth and Starfleet that we never really got before “First Flight.” There are still missed details that future episodes should clear up including the question of the soldiers of what army are on board Enterprise exactly and why Earth needs an army in the first place. It also marks the diminution in importance of the Suliban, whom “Broken Bow” presented as nemeses but have now become reluctant allies at best. Since the pilot, the Suliban have failed as menaces or as characters and while some viewers may be complaining about their defanging in “The Expanse,” comparisons to the defanging of the Borg on VOY are not warranted simply because unlike the Borg, the Suliban were never impressive or terrifying. The Xinti, from the brief glance we got in Starfleet’s version of Area 51, also seem to rely on extensive makeup but it still looks more natural than the Suliban and certainly more menacing. Most importantly, though, “The Expanse” provides Archer with a sense of purpose and gravity that he’s never really had before. Archer has been a temperamental character who acted on impulse. Now those qualities come closer to being grounded by the dedication to serving a larger purpose as Kirk’s and Sisko’s were.

Ultimately, “The Expanse” is a trailer and so its impact and how we see it in the context of the larger series has to wait for the third season of ENTERPRISE to begin. It promises a lot, but how much subsequent episodes deliver remains to be seen.

Next week: Summer O’Reruns

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – First Flight and Bounty

“First Flight” and “Bounty”

Summary: While on a mission with T’Pol Archer recalls the rocky history of the Warp program. Archer is taken by a Tellarite bounty hunter as T’Pol’s mating drive kicks in

star trek enterprise first flight

First Flight

By airing two ENTERPRISE episodes on the same night UPN has given viewers the chance to compare two different approaches to the show. Both are clearly priority episodes and both have excellent production design and outstanding special effects and are professionally and capably directed by LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson, respectively. The difference lies in the stories they tell and how they tell them. “First Flight” is a relatively subdued episode mostly told in flashbacks by two people in a shuttlecraft. It features very little action and its entire strength rests on an evocation of the risks and emotional drives of space exploration. “Bounty” by contrast goes to the well yet again by putting Archer in peril and featuring a sexually exploitative storyline for T’Pol with Klingons and a space battle thrown in for anyone who might be losing interest. By the logic of the school of plot development, which STAR TREK has often been accused of subscribing to and says an episode needs to put its main cast members in danger, include some T&A and deliver some action scenes to keep viewer interest, “Bounty” might be considered the better episode. But in actuality “First Flight” is far superior.

After the Columbia shuttle disaster there was talk of how ENT might commemorate the tragedy; intended or not, “First Flight” serves as a valid homage to the sprit that drives space exploration and the costs along the way. For all the solemn grandiloquence of the historical montage that opens every episode, the series has never come as close to the sprit of those discoverers, explorers, aviators and astronauts as it does here. Like VOYAGER’s “One Small Step” it offers a look back at the time when the future was made possible but “First Flight” is able to deliver on ENTERPRISE’s premise of the Birth of STAR TREK by showing that that time is now.

The series had promised to deliver this but its premise seems to offer just another starship with a slightly more rugged interior and just another crew slightly greener around the edges while substituting friction with the Vulcans for a genuine look at the progression of events between history and the future. “First Flight,” though, does what ENT up till now had only tried to accomplish with occasional references to the continuity of Starfleet’s warp program by actually showing just how raw and precarious the process that led from first contact to the 23rd century was. Countless episodes have gone back in time but “First Flight” is one of the few that actually orients itself and the series it’s part of in time.

Co-written by John Shiban and Chris Black, two of the staff’s best writers, and for once an episode not [apparently] originated by Berman

star trek enterprise bounty

Bounty

and Braga, “First Flight” has Archer piloting a shuttlepod on a mission of exploration even as he ponders and tries to find meaning in the death of a man who was his rival and who helped make him the Captain he is today. With T’Pol along to serve as his confessor, “First Flight,” as one of the last episodes of the season turns the tables on one of the first, reversing “Carbon Creek”‘s setup by having Archer tell T’Pol a seemingly unbelievable story about the past in flashbacks. It also reverses TNG’s “Tapestry,” which showed the young Picard as a risk taker by showing the younger Archer as a ‘by the book’ officer. The flashbacks don’t only show a less mature Archer but a less mature Starfleet in the form of Commodore Forrest, who finally gets some character development of his own, as he nervously tries to appease the Vulcans. Trip makes an appearance to show the origins of his relationship with Archer but Trip is just too ridiculous to allow for any character development by the contrast of his past and present selves. The flashbacks also ground Archer’s anger against the Vulcans in real complaints by showing that their refusal to fully share technology could have cost lives and how close they came to nearly derailing the entire space program in contrast to his contemporary grudge which has often seemed petty and prejudiced.

The process of the search for nebulae itself by Archer and T’Pol parallels the psychological process in which, even as she uses the shuttlepod’s instruments, T’Pol searches out what is bothering Archer and as he fires the charges that illuminate space, he comes to terms with the chain of events that brought him here. He also copes with what no captain has been shown to confront before: the possibility that maybe the best man for the job was the one who wasn’t chosen. Kirk’s rival Finnegan was so very clearly a bully and a fool. Picard’s friends in “Tapestry” were sidekicks like Trip. Anderson though, while at times reckless and unsympathetic, seems a more plausible candidate for the job than Archer does. It’s his idea that salvages the warp program and it’s the friction of his character that drives Archer to become more reckless and gregarious. And even at the end Archer hasn’t entirely let go of his jealousy so that it falls to T’Pol to suggest Anderson as the name for the newly discovered nebula. The nebula’s illumination, though, serves as closure for both the scientific and psychological search as Archer finds the drive for exploration that brought him here.

“Bounty” is in its own way an odd sort of episode. On the surface it appears to be designed as the ultimate sweeps episode and to that end it throws in just about everything imaginable to peak viewer interest. In a single episode the captain is kidnapped and threatened with death, T’Pol experiences her mating drive and there’s a space battle with Klingons. The only thing the producers seem to have left out are the Borg and they were on last week. But with all that content the actual episode mostly turns out to be a lukewarm story about a Tellarite captain with an unnatural attachment to his impounded ship. The problem might be that the episode is based on yet another Berman and Braga story and that the final script seems to have contributions from five different writers each of whom may have had a different episode in mind. But whatever happened behind the scenes the end result has a Tellarite Bounty Hunter getting more camera time than anyone else as he tells his listless story of woe involving the Klingon department of traffic enforcement and ship impoundment while T’Pol begs Dr. Phlox for sex.

“Bounty”‘s premise is a nice touch of continuity in that it follows up on the events of “Judgment” and even bases on an episode around its repercussions. It is good to see ENTERPRISE developing the Klingons as a hostile and expansionist alien race, as they should be in this time period of TREK, even accounting for this series’s warped continuity. If Archer’s rescue of the refugees led to the events in “Judgment” open hostilities between Enterprise and a Klingon vessel should have even more serious consequences. And Archer being kidnapped by an alien bounty hunter makes for an interesting premise.

Unfortunately, “Bounty”‘s premise does not involve an alien bounty hunter ruthlessly kidnapping Archer. Instead its premise has an alien bounty hunter kidnapping Archer and then complaining about his sad lot in life. On the way to the docking bay Trip reminds Archer that Tellarites are belligerent and aggressive, unfortunately he failed to remind the writers of this since the Tellarites we see are all depressed and whiny. Yes the Bounty Hunter is kidnapping people and taking them off to be disemboweled by the Klingons but that’s only because he really wants his ship back. And of course that makes it all right. Any number of people who have had their vehicles impounded by the traffic department probably have the urge to buy a gun and go around the country hunting down people to pay off their fines and could probably sympathize with Skalaar. Unfortunately while Robert O’Reilly is wasted on a minor part, the part of Skalaar is tepidly acted with all the energy of a Prozac medicated Ben Stein. That leeches any remaining momentum out of a storyline whose few twists and turns are borrowed respectively from “Precious Cargo,” “Canamar” and “Dawn”; all from this very season.

That leaves us with “Bounty”‘s B-story, undoubtedly gleefully thought up by Team B&B, that has T’Pol going into premature Pon Farr. It’s ironic that Roxann Dawson directed “Bounty” as she was stuck with the same ridiculous and degrading storyline in VOY’s “Blood Fever.” The difference is that this time she gets to be on the other side of the camera. John Billingsley has no such luck and even though Phlox has managed to keep his dignity in some pretty bad scenes and some pretty bad dialogues in the past, Billinglessly not only can’t redeem the scene but loses Phlox’s dignity too. Meanwhile ENT’s writers demonstrate that not only can they not keep track of STAR TREK continuity, they can’t even keep track of their own, as Dr. Phlox–despite being part of an interspecies medical exchange program and possessing expertise with large numbers of species–doesn’t know about Pon Farr while both Hoshi and Trip do. It can be hard to remember now that the original Pon Farr episode was a heartfelt and powerful production written by talented Science Fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. It wasn’t about sleaze, or snickering gags about mating urges but about the power of the bond between two colleagues and friends. It’s an episode these writers might do well to review before they touch on the subject again.

To some fans each STAR TREK series creates new low points going lower than any spin-off has gone before. As “First Flight” presents one franchise high point, “Bounty”‘s scenes with T’Pol present a new low point. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for any series to pull off in one night.

Next Week: Hostile aliens probe Earth as Archer looks resolutely into the camera.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Regeneration

Summary: The Borg make a comeback as Enterprise goes where just about every Star Trek series has gone before.

There’s nothing precisely wrong with “Regeneration.” Unlike some of the more mediocre NEXT GENERATION and VOYAGER efforts, it

star trek enterprise regeneration

"Wait, a Starship named Enterprise. Haven't we done this before?"

manages to let the Borg keep their dignity while portraying them as ominous and menacing. It doesn’t reduce them to a single oversexed Borg queen and even gives them back some of their mystery. But at the same time there’s nothing precisely right about “Regeneration” either. Maybe over the past decade the potential of the Borg has been thoroughly tapped out by various STAR TREK spinoffs or maybe any future Borg episodes or movies need to break new ground to be effective. Either way, despite striking work by David Livingston, particularly in the arctic scenes, and an adequate enough script, “Regeneration” ends up regenerating all the cliches resulting in an episode that just doesn’t add up to much of anything.

Like FIRST CONTACT, the movie that the episode serves as a pseudo-sequel to, “Regeneration” plays as a horror movie with the Borg as the monsters. Beginning with the arctic discovery scene that suggests a homage to the classic Sci-Fi monster film, THE THING, the Borg appear as monsters safely buried until somebody foolish enough digs them up resulting in the usual havoc horror movies are made of. Substitute mummies or vampires for Borg and you could have pretty much the same episode, and there is a case to be made for arguing that the Borg are indeed space-age vampires. After all, they’re nearly invincible to ordinary unmodified weapons. They infect their victims, making them one of their kind with double-fanged incisions causing them to lose their humanity. They rest in special alcoves analogous to vampire coffins. And like all vampires the final confrontation with them, in any number of the Borg episodes, from their first appearance to this one where Archer plays Van Helsing, involves a trip to their lair.

What has elevated the best Borg episodes above mere space fright has been the examination of the borderline between human being and Borg in episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds,” “I, Borg” or “Dark Frontier” rather than reducing the Borg to shambling monsters. “Regeneration” makes some attempt towards incorporating such a storyline with Phlox’s infection, which also results in some of the episode’s best scenes including a memorable exchange with Hoshi. But it never really explores the boundary between individuality and collectivism as the above mentioned episodes did, instead it mainly features Phlox being sick. Archer’s storyline that deals with his realization that he can’t save the research team is plausible enough, though never really gripping. It might have been more gripping if Enterprise crewmembers had been on that transport forcing Archer to sacrifice the lives of his own people. But as it is Archer is once again coming to realize something the audience already knows, which may make for some character development but not for interesting viewing.

“Regeneration”‘s resolution also comes a little too unbelievably easy considering what a challenge the Borg were for Picard and Co. in the

star trek enterprise regeneration

"Resistance is futile. Resist... You know with our track record, it's probably not futile. Go ahead and resist."

24th century while Archer and Co. experience much less trouble disposing of them in the 22nd century. Admittedly they are facing weaker and smaller numbers of Borg but the key Borg strategy in this story is a timed shutdown of Enterprise’s power systems at a critical moment, which is a bit too cunning for the more literal-minded Borg, who traditionally utilize direct smash and grab tactics.

But mostly “Regeneration” is an episode-scale reworking of FIRST CONTACT without a revenge motive for the captain or a master plan for the Borg. And without a significant motive on either side, it’s is reduced to another ‘Borg as Monsters’ plot that could have been done with any number of monsters or races. There’s no real risk for the Enterprise because “Regeneration” is a stand alone episode with no future repercussions despite its ending since we know that it’s Q who will bring the Enterprise-D into contact with the Borg well ahead of schedule. And there’s no new ground being broken because “Regeneration” offers nothing in the way of a plot that we haven’t seen before. With those factors eliminated the only justification for the episode seems to be the need to exploit the Borg one more time in the hope of boosting ENTERPRISE’s ratings. So instead of the Borg assimilating the series to add to its perfection, ENTERPRISE assimilates the Borg to add them to its mediocrity.

Next week: Can the show do better with two chances on one night?

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